Ulrike Koeb is an Austrian food and still-life photographer. Ulrike lives and works in Vienna where she has a photography studio for her creative work. Her photographs are published in various food books and magazines worldwide. Apart from food photography, Ulrike is currently interested in socially-oriented projects that raise issues of ecology and sustainability.

Interview by Tatyana Valova, curator of Belgrade Photo Month

How did you start your photography path?

I started by experimenting with an inexpensive camera. Here is discovered my love for design,
photography, and style.

How did you come up with the idea of becoming a still life and food photographer?

In the early nineties, I was taking pictures for a book project, “the best restaurants in Austria”. That’s when my interest was awakened and I discovered my love for food and still life.

After having training in the Viennese photo studio Liewehr, you studied photography in the studios of Charles Purvis and Hans Neleman.

Why did you choose exactly them to be your teachers in still-life photography?

Because their work inspired me.

You also experimented with black-and-white photography and studied old techniques such as
platinum palladium printing. What does attract you to old-style photographs? Why did you finally choose to create bright and colorful images? Do you still work with analog photography or did you switch to digital?

I love the old black-and-white techniques and I also like to work with color.
Right now I am working with digital photography but let us see what the future holds for me.

While in your commercial work, you mainly photograph things to look beautiful and attractive either for illustrative purposes or for selling, your artistic practice raises extremely important and problematic issues of ecology and sustainability. Austria, your country, reaches one of the highest recycling rates across Europe and it holds a leading position for ecological construction and environmental technology. So, why did you still decide to raise this topic in your work? Is there something personal that makes you focus on this problem?

It is a global problem, and we must constantly raise awareness regardless of advances in recycling technology – Even in my home country Austria – awareness of the environment and
climate has no borders.

Within Belgrade Photo Month your project r e d u c e – r e u s e – r e t h i n k was exhibited in the lobby of the hotel Mona Plaza. Today’s location of the hotel was the site of the first Serbian chocolate factory created by Kosta Shonda, a tradesman, and industrialist who arrived in Belgrade in the 19th century. I know that you made some images, especially for the exhibition in Belgrade. And actually, it is not your first experience showing this project outside of the gallery’s walls. Why do you find it interesting to exhibit your works in public spaces and not only in art galleries?

I want to show my work to the public. Raising awareness of such an important theme should be
exhibited to a broader interested audience.

I guess that when you started your career as a food photographer, you did not expect that later everybody would be photographing their meals to post on Instagram. Why do you think people generally tend to anesthetize their food?

Because we all have to eat and naturally, food tastes better If it is nicely displayed.

I am sure that still-life photography dramatically differs from other photography genres. So, making a still life image is something like a meditative process. How long does it take to get a perfect shot? Find appropriate items, arrange them, find the perfect light, etc.

You can never tell in advance. Although I can say how many perfect shots I will shoot a day. But with the experience gained, you certainly have an advantage.

Which food is the most photogenic one for you?

Vegetables, seafood, fish, and cheese.

Apart from artistic practice, you had a huge number of commercial projects: for advertising, and for book illustration. How do you separate your artistic and commercial practices? Do you have different approaches to each of them?

I love photography and it is my challenge to get the best results for every task.
I assume you work a lot with clients who order photoshoots from you.

How do you manage to remain creative while meeting the requirements that you have for photoshoots?

Each and every project and client receive my full and individual attention. At times not easy to remain focused.

I know that sometimes for advertising real food is substituted with something more attractive to look better in the final image. Do you use these tricks? Maybe you can share it with us
some inside secrets of the food photography industry?

Nowadays the best is not to use substitutes, but to shoot quickly and spontaneously.

What do you think about collecting photography as art? Have you ever sold your works? Do you collect art and especially photography?

Once in a while, I sell a picture and it makes me happy to think someone likes my work.
I am not really a collector but more of an admirer and an observer.

Tell us something about your new project. What are your plans for the future? Any new projects, or ideas?

I keep on refining and expanding my project r e d u c e / r e u s e / r e t h i n k

Do you plan to expand the topic of ecology and sustainability in your next projects?

I will also deal with the uprising and ongoing problem of the lack of water.

What do you enjoy most about being a photographer?

Having found the topic I love and feel comfortable with. At the same time raising awareness.

The important part of Belgrade Photo Month is a contest for young photographers. What would you advise these young ones who are just starting their careers as photographers?

Do not copy others, just try to find your own style.


Your favorite photographer: ALBERT WATSON

Best photography exhibition you’ve ever visited: TOO MANY FOR CHOICE
Which profession would you have, if you weren’t a photographer? GRAPHIC DESIGNER

What would it be if you could photograph anything in the world? DESSERTS
Place that you liked in Belgrade the most – MANY PLACES AND LOCATIONS